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Creating Work-Life Balance, Part I: Establishing Boundaries

Have you ever noticed how many professionals in the healthcare field don’t attend to their own health?  Or how many of us don’t practice what we recommend to our patients?  Or, how many of us in healthcare delivery or healthcare business develop stress-inducing habits such as working late, skipping exercise, and eating on the run?  And even worse, have you noticed how the inability to manage ourselves (our communication and behavior) often leads to ill-health for us and/or our staff?

Aspiring to balance our work with the rest of our life is almost a cliché.  Everyone wants it, and it seems that few know how to achieve it.  We often don’t even know the source of our malcontent or “imbalance.”

After dealing with my own journey of malcontent over 10 years ago, and having experienced both the clinical and business aspects of healthcare, I can happily say I am operating at an “advanced” level of “balance” and work-life integration. 

Am I perfect?  Am I the guru of professional enlightenment and balance?

Not hardly, but I know I’m far more “balanced” and whole now than 5 years ago, and even 2 years ago!

I am still evolving as a person, parent, spouse and professional.   On reflection, however, I believe there are two significant realizations that helped me make a quantum leap forward into the zone of “work-life balance.”  First, I had a difficult period in my life that forced me to make a choice to STOP being a whiner who feels stuck and frustrated, and START being an adult who is responsible for my own joy.  Second,  every day I deliberately and consciously exercise CHOICE in how I spend my time, who I hang out with, and what kind of work and activities I focus on.  My objective these days is to remove the “shoulds” in my life.  

In this newsletter and others to follow in the coming months, my associates and I will address the issue of work-life balance.  Some people prefer the term “work-life integration,” as it more accurately describes the reality of what we really want to achieve:  meaningful work that is integrated with a meaningful life.  “Balance” may imply a conflict between work and life.  

However you choose to describe it for yourself, I am suggesting five principles to use as your framework and blueprint for achieving it.  These principles have evolved as I have evolved, and in particular as I work one-on-one with professionals and healthcare executives to achieve their goals.  Work-life balance may not be their stated focus, but it’s invariably an implicit objective---and happily a by-product of our work together.  

In this article I’ll focus on the first principle: Establishing Boundaries.  Subsequent articles will address the other principles.

Five Principles for Achieving Work-Life Balance

  1. Establishing Boundaries

  2. Eliminating Clutter and Tolerations

  3. Having a Reserve in All Areas

  4. Uncovering and Developing Your Unique Gift

  5. Trusting that God will Illuminate the Next Step

   Establishing boundaries

 Do you know how to protect your space, family, time and sanity? 

This is a two-part question, really. 

First, do you know what boundaries you want to establish?  Forget about money, social etiquette and being nice for just a moment. 

  • How many hours do you want to work? 

  • When do you want to come home? 

  • What do you want your responsibilities at work and home to be?

  • How do want to be with people?

  • How do you want people to be with you?

Take the time to write down the answers to these questions and also expand your description of how you want your life to run.

You may be saying to yourself, “But I can’t be that selfish” or “This is great, but I have to work late sometimes.” 

Instead, say to yourself, “I make my own choices.  I am responsible for what happens to me in my life.” 

Adopt an attitude of CHOICE.  Look at your circumstances as being the result of the choices you make.

For example, if you are exhausted from working late because you have overbooked yourself in order to meet you financial production goal, then the stress you and your family feel are a result of the choice you made between extra money versus emotional well-being (more on this when we discuss Principle #3, Having a Reserve in All Areas).

Similarly if you are irritated by a colleague of yours who is rude and sometimes takes advantage of people, it is your CHOICE to accept this behavior—or not.   

The second part of establishing boundaries is learning how to communicate in order to maintain and protect your boundaries.  Your communication signals to others that you have a choice and you are honoring that choice.    

There are a series of questions and statements that I teach my clients to use in their day-to-day interactions to help them maintain boundaries.  Two of these phrases are good to learn early:  “Do you realize” and “I ask that.”  

Do You Realize?

Using the phrase “Do you realize” to open a question is a powerful AND respectful way to state your boundaries to other people who may not be aware---or may need reminders---of your boundaries.  Here are some examples of how to use this phrase:  

  • Do you realize that you interrupted my reading when you came into my office?

  • Do you realize that scheduling that meeting at 4:30 pm means we’ll have to cut it short so I can be out of here by 5:30 ?

  • Do you realize how rude you sounded when you called that manager to our conference room?

  • Do you realize that you were 20 minutes late for our meeting?

I Ask That . . .

Using the phrase “I ask that” to open a statement is a powerful and somewhat more forceful way to state your boundaries.  If you find that “Do you realize” is not working with some individuals, consider the “I ask that” statement.  Here are some examples:  

  • I ask that my schedule be blocked during these times.

  • I ask that when I am with you, you speak a little quieter.

  • I ask that we start the meeting on time, follow the agenda and conclude on time.

  • I ask that you make it to our appointment on time, otherwise I will leave.

Are you serious about achieving emotional well-being, eliminating stress, and integrating your work with your life?

It can definitely happen for you if you are ready to take specific actions now and over time that follow the Five Principles.

Sometimes creating work-life balance is less about the ADDITION of “happy events” and “stuff” to our lives, and more about pruning away the junk and clutter of annoyances and empty obligations.  I’ll cover more of that in a future article introducing Principle #2, Eliminating Clutter and Tolerations.  

 Francine R. Gaillour, MD, FACPE

Strategic Advisor and Executive Coach for Healthcare Professionals and Business Leaders

Francine@physicianleadership.com

(206) 686-4205  

 

 

Francine R. Gaillour, MD, MBA, FACPE
15600 NE 8th Street, Suite B1-173
Bellevue, WA  98008
(206) 686-4205
www.PhysicianLeadership.com 

Francine R. Gaillour, MD   ©2006 Ki Health, Inc.